When the farm bill failed in the House, it was reported as a disaster for the House GOP leadership. And it was – Speaker Boehner had even put his name on the record as a vote in support of the bill, which is extremely rare for a speaker to do.

Now, Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-VA) has laid down the law for several House Committee Chairmen who voted against the bloated farm bill:

According to several sources, Cantor told the chairmen it was “unacceptable” for them to not vote together on final passage, especially since the leadership supported their amendments to the agricultural package.

Representative Frank Lucas of Oklahoma, the agricultural-committee chairman, expressed hope that the House would take up a farm bill again this summer, and Cantor reportedly agreed with him. The majority leader went on to tell the group that he doesn’t want another headache if he decides to do so.

Near the end, Cantor coolly reminded them that the leadership is much more likely to usher their bills to the floor if they stick with him on votes.

Sources say the chairmen were slightly surprised to hear such a warning from the mild-mannered Virginian, but with rank-and-file Republicans angry about the farm bill’s collapse, they know Cantor is facing pressure.

Out of the 62 Republican nays, seven of them were chairmen, including Jeb Hensarling (Texas), the financial-services-committee chairman, and Jeff Miller (Fla.), the veteran-affairs-committee chairman. Budget-committee chairman Paul Ryan of Wisconsin was another nay vote.

While this is normal in Washington, and sometimes a positive strategy – Members of Congress generally crave moving up the chain of command, and passing legislation with their mark on it, so they can be pushed in the right direction with threats like Leader Cantor’s – the House GOP leadership is making a gigantic error in using its political capitol on the wasteful, bloated farm bill. And it’s yet another sign that “conservative” in Washington is really “wants to spend more, just not as much as the other team.”

However, it appears the Majority Leader is not fully convinced his threats will work, because the House GOP is working to split the farm bill in two, an unprecedented move:

House Republican leaders have decided to drop food stamps from the farm bill and are whipping the farm-only portion of the bill for a vote that will likely come this week, according to a GOP leadership aide.

The nutrition portion of the bill would be dealt with later.

….

The “new” farm bill would be the bill as it finished on the floor before the break, with the addition of a repeal of the 1949 law that requires the passage or extension of a farm bill.

Rory Cooper, a spokesman for Majority Leader Eric Cantor, R-Va., said leadership has not yet decided to schedule a vote.

….

House Agriculture Chairman Frank D. Lucas said Tuesday morning that he would support splitting the farm bill — as long as it can pass the House.

While the “farm” portion of the farm bill should fail on its own merits – it’s mostly subsidies to big, well-connected interests – breaking the farm bill in two would appear to be a tremendous victory for those who want transparent government. However, Heritage Action has a video of Rep. Phil Roe (R-TN) explaining last week that splitting the food stamp and farm subsidy portions of the law is mostly a procedural trick:

It is increasingly clear lawmakers in the House have little desire to have an open, transparent process that produces real reforms. A farm-only farm bill that perpetuates the status quo isn’t a victory, nor is a food stamp bill that perpetuates President Obama’s failed stimulus policies.

Will House Republicans squander this historic opportunity to change Washington, save taxpayers money and help those trapped by government?  If Rep. Roe’s comments are accurate, the answer will likely be yes.

As always, you have to look twice at any effort by Beltway political leaders to appear in support of fiscally sound policies. While breaking the farm bill into two components has merit, simply doing so while voting for the same bloated spending that was shot down two weeks ago is more kicking the can down the road.

Multiple requests for comment to the Majority Leader’s office were not returned before press time.